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Time running out for foundation to develop field next to City Honors

The clock has passed midnight on a plan to turn four acres of grassy land adjacent to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus into a multimillion dollar athletic field.

The property, known as Fosdick Field, situated next to City Honors School, was acquired a few years ago by a nonprofit for an athletic field and neighborhood recreation space, but the foundation couldn't afford the $2 million payment that came due this summer.

The land will revert back to the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority if the foundation doesn’t come up with the money – and soon.

That’s why the City Honors/Fosdick-Masten Park Foundation, which owns the property, has asked Buffalo Public Schools to step in with the resources to save it.

“This is going to take a public-private partnership to get this done,” said Stephanie Argentine, co-chair of the Committee to Restore Fosdick Field.

“We’re a foundation that really started as a parent foundation. We stepped in because there was a critical need at the time and the opportunity was going to be lost unless somebody stepped up,” Argentine said. “The ideal path would be for BPS to be the long-term steward and owner.”

The foundation acquired the land from the BMHA in 2016 for $2.05 million with the intent of constructing a $3.5 million athletic facility with an all-weather field, scoreboard and landscaping.

The foundation, which has been making interest payments since the acquisition, has secured $600,000 for the project and believes it can raise more.

Fosdick Field, Argentine said, would benefit City Honors students during the school day, but after school it would be used for games by any of the district’s athletic teams, as well as recreation for residents in the Fruit Belt neighborhood.

Frustration has been mounting at the foundation, though, because it has been unable to make headway with the district.

District officials, meanwhile, said it’s unfair to blame them for a lack of urgency, because the public school system was never involved in the project in the first place.

Nonetheless, Superintendent Kriner Cash is scheduled to sit down and meet with foundation members this week.

“The district fully understands that time is of the essence,” said Nathaniel J. Kuzma, general counsel for the school district.

But, Kuzma said, the district is not making any promises and is unsure “at this late stage” whether it will be able to provide any financial assistance.

The foundation has been working with Gillian Brown, executive director of the BMHA, to come up with other solutions.

One possibility for lowering the purchase price of the property may be to swap a mothballed city school that the BMHA could redevelop for public housing.

Brown also had another suggestion: Set aside some seats each year at City Honors for students who live in public housing. Access to City Honors has long been an issue for African American and Hispanic students, but district officials dismissed the idea as not a viable option.

“I run a housing authority designed to help the poor,” Brown said. “We need that money or we need some commensurate social benefit.”

Fosdick Field was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1887 as part of a 10-acre park, with six of the acres later used to build Masten Park High School, which became Fosdick-Masten Park High School and is now City Honors.

The field was used for physical education, school district athletic events and by the neighborhood before the BMHA acquired the property in 1977 for construction of the Woodson Gardens housing development.

The housing, which eventually became run-down, was demolished in 2013, paving the way for the foundation to secure the property.

Its $2 million payment, however, was due June 24. Brown sent a letter to the foundation that after 90 days the authority could file a certificate with the Erie County Clerk’s Office rescinding the title to the property.

“I believe if you did the math it would be right around this week or next when the 90 days are up,” Brown said Monday.

“My guess is if there isn’t some movement this month, one way or another, I’ll probably go to my board either at the October meeting or at the November meeting and I’ll ask for some direction,” he said.

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